Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019CT042B

Forecasting the Resilience of Vernal Pool Exosystems to Climate-Mediated Hydrological Disruptions

Institute: Connecticut
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-03-01 End Date: 2020-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $25,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $49,867

Principal Investigators: Mark C. Urban

Abstract: Overall framework: Understanding the inherent resilience of natural systems to climate change is necessary to predict and ameliorate future impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics. From both a fundamental and applied perspective, we need to understand how specific landscape and local factors might dampen or exacerbate hydrological and ecological responses to altered climates. In particular, we know little about potential climate change impacts on vernal pools in New England, a sensitive and imperiled aquatic ecosystem. Advances: Here, we build a climate-hydrology-biology model to predict how climate change will alter the vernal pool ecosystem in New England and use it to identify the factors that determine hydrologic refugia from climate change. Climate change refugia are defined as habitats that are resilient to climate change and thus provide a refuge for associated species. We hypothesize that pools with summer groundwater influence might promote these refugia, but little is known about groundwater dynamics in vernal pools in forested ecosystems in New England. The enhanced evapotranspiration in such systems is likely to render them more susceptible to future drying induced by warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons. Yet, the only local hydrologic model developed thus far for a New England vernal pool ignored groundwater influences. Specific objectives: This proposal advances fundamental and applied questions about water resources, ecosystem function, and links to aquatic biological diversity by (1) collecting finescaled temporal data on 20 Connecticut vernal pools along a gradient in known permanence and potential groundwater influence; (2) using this data to parameterize and validate a series of hydrological models that vary in complexity; (3) using a range of climate change predictions to project the future distribution of drying times in these pools using the most accurate model; and (4) linking the hydrological model to ecological data to predict the effect of these changes on sensitive species and overall landscape biodiversity in the future. Overall value: The project takes a multi-tiered and multi-disciplinary approach in order to develop insights about fundamental responses to climate change across space and time to contribute to building a broader, more mechanistic understanding of climate change refugia in aquatic ecosystems. Such insights will apply broadly to vernal pools in forested ecosystems in Connecticut, New England, and more generally across temperate regions around the world. Identifying the factors that determine hydrologic refugia will allow for state and federal land managers to protect and manage aquatic resources more effectively and therefore mobilize limited resources with increased efficacy. Results will be shared with the USGS national Refugia Research Coalition, submitted as a manuscript to an applied journal, and serve as the basis of a large grant application for manipulating hydrological conditions in pools. In addition, we would train three undergraduate students in hydrology, climate science, and ecology, with an emphasis on students from minority and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.